The Bulls look to keep pace in the tightly contested Eastern Conference and continue their recent surge at home when they face the Pacers on Saturday night.
Chicago (35-38) has won nine of 10 at home and six of seven overall, putting it in seventh place in the East. The Bulls, just percentage points ahead of Detroit, are trying to return to the playoffs after a one-year absence.
“Just a couple weeks ago, we were out of the playoffs and weren’t playing well,” said swingman John Salmons, who has played a large role in the Bulls’ strong play after being acquired from Sacramento at the trade deadline. “We’ve put a good string of games together.”
Salmons is averaging 20.2 points in 18 games with the Bulls. He had 27 as Chicago beat Miami 106-87 on Thursday night.
Indiana (30-42) beat Miami 90-88 the previous evening, earning its 17th straight home win against the Heat. The Pacers have won two straight after losing their previous five, but they trail the Bulls and Pistons by 4 1/2 games with just 10 to play.
“We’ll see what happens,” Indiana forward Jeff Foster said. “Guys are still playing hungry and aggressively. And we’ve been playing some pretty good defense down the stretch.”
Losing Troy Murphy down the stretch would all but end the Pacers’ chances of making the playoffs for the first time in three years. Murphy sat out against the Heat because of a sprained ligament in his left knee, and his status for Saturday’s game is uncertain.
Indiana coach Jim O’Brien said Murphy was hurt at a shootaround before Wednesday’s game. The veteran big man is averaging 14.1 points and 11.8 rebounds.
Chicago point guard Derrick Rose, meanwhile, returned Thursday after missing a game due to a sprained right wrist, contributing nine points and seven assists in 30 minutes off the bench.
It’s uncertain when Rose might regain his starting spot. Kirk Hinrich has been in the lineup the past two games, scoring a combined 39 points.
Tyrus Thomas has also been coming up big for the Bulls, posting double-doubles in four of his last five games. He had 15 points and 12 rebounds versus the Heat.
“My confidence has always been there,” said Thomas, enjoying one of the best stretches of his three-year career.
If healthy, Murphy will match up with Thomas. Otherwise, the Pacers will probably give Foster another start.
Indiana will have to continue its recent stretch of tough defense if Murphy can’t play.
The Pacers have held each of their last four opponents under 100 points, matching a season high. They limited Miami star Dwyane Wade, an MVP candidate, to 21 points - nearly nine below his average - on 5-for-24 shooting.
Indiana and Chicago have split two meetings this season. The Pacers have dropped 10 of their last 13 visits to the United Center.